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Walking on Words

When asked where she finds inspiration for writing poetry, Professor Lia Purpura will tell anyone, “I’m a big walker – one in a long tradition of writer-walkers. Moving the body makes it possible to catch untethered ideas and images, to work out writing problems, and to wander and meander in spirit, too, not just in body.”

The connection between mind and body is undeniable. Exercise is often recommended as an aid to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. (Note also that dark chocolate is recommended as an aid for depression, although there is no known connection between dark chocolate and writing … yet). It is no secret many writers, think Henry David Thoreau, have found inspiration for their writing while spending time outside. Purpura supports that the secret to (beginning) a successful writing career is to walk, because in doing so, one might stumble upon words.

Professor Lia Purpura is Writer in Residence at UMBC and has published eight collections of essays, poems and translations. Her most recent collection of poetry, “It Shouldn’t Have been Beautiful” features many short, yet powerful poems. The poems in this collection have simple titles that demand the reader’s attention, such as “Belief” and “Uncertainty” – feelings with which are inevitably easy to identify. Despite their short presentation, Purpura’s poetry carries a lot of meaning.

For many poets, the final poem is a skeleton of the original. Although the poems in her latest collection are short, Purpura’s poetry usually begins much longer. Purpura admits, “Most of my work goes through a tremendous amount of drafting – it’s not unusual to have 20 drafts backing up a very small poem. Sometimes way more, and over the course of years. There’s no one way poems or essays come into being for me, but they all usually share a messy childhood. The short poems in my latest collection ‘It Shouldn’t Have Been Beautiful’ were a exception and many of those – most of those – wanted to be short from the very beginning.”

If ever there was a reason to take a long, thoughtful walk, Purpura’s poetry is certainly inspiration to do so. For any of her students, there is a lot to learn from Professor Purpura. To aspiring writers interested in publishing, Purpura advises, “Read like crazy, write a whole lot, find like-minded friends to share your work with and be very patient about sending work out, having it returned (also known as “rejected”) … and hold on to that sense of desire/joy/curiosity in the art – because really, why else would you do it?”